Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Word of Wisdom from the Past – The Polyhedron Magazine #7

I started reading some of the old Polyhedron magazines and I am enjoying them quite a bit. I seem to like them more than Dragon or Dungeon Magazines. I really like their Living City articles and Rouges Gallery and find them useful. Reading through these lost tomes of yore you get a glimpse into the zeitgeist of the time in a way that is reasonably unfiltered. Many times, people question what people back in the day thought about X issue in the community. The response is usually, “They are still alive, ask them.” This has merit and is valuable, but not a complete story. Often time colors the past with rose-tinted glasses and memories change over time. Seeing these articles give us a clear understanding of the thought processes back in the day and the issues with the games that people were discussing. Here is a hint, it is the same stuff we discuss today. Apparently, the Thief class was always an issue and “fixing” it was always on the table as example. Below are two things I picked out of issue #7 that I thought were interesting and I wanted to share.

A person wrote into the “Dispel Confusion”, the Q&A column for Polyhedron, and asked about their created spell that healed at range. The reaction is stark and not even a bit nuanced, it is a bad idea. They go so far as to invoke the name of one of the creators, Gary, saying it is range cure is too powerful. They discuss it as an issue of balance, and this is the reason that Clerics get any armor is to be able to wade into the front lines and heal. Something of note too is in older editions you cannot move and cast, placing further limits on capability. I do not want this to turn into a 5e bash fest, as I do play 5e regularly, but is there a single heal that is not ranged now? I admit, I am not a 5e expert, though I have played it a lot. I am not trying to say, “See 5e is bad! You are bad for liking it,” but look at the changes to the thoughts of people in a relatively small amount of time. Changing rules like this change the focus of the game (not stating that is good or bad, just a given). When you change the healing mechanics (making range healing possible, using hit dice to heal, healing as a bonus action, etc) the core of the game changes with it. The game becomes less focused on the idea of survival in the face of imminent death, and more about grand champions boldly destroying foes. Am I stating anything new? No. Will people miss the bigger point and most likely argue in the comments about edition wars? Yes.

Next, was a piece for “Notes for the Dungeon Master”. In this article the writer, discusses an old topic in the community, “What do you do with a player when their character dies?” A big point of pride for many in the OSR/Old-School community seems to be when a character dies the player makes a new character and builds from level 1 again. I am generally for this, up to a point, and I agree with the article. Once the group gets its feet underneath it and starts to grow in levels this becomes silly. If the party is averaging 7th level making a veteran player start over at level 1 seems silly. The article sets some ground rules and recommendations on how to handle this. The author tends to focus on levels, whereas I would focus on total XP instead. The article also recommends on how to possibly handle magic items and gear. I used the exact same system in my games before and it worked perfectly. I only mention this piece because I hear in the “meta” around the game online stories about how this was not even a thing “back in the day”. Death equaled reset always. It is the way the founders intended it. Etc. According to this, that is not the whole story.

The real focus of this piece for me is that even back in the day there was a plethora of ideas and ways of play, not one dogmatic “old-school” way of play. Odds are people in the comments will argue the merits of healing and starting PCs at level one, but there is not much I can do about that. Hell, odds are that people will comment without even reading the blog post. That is all for this issue. I am really enjoying reading these articles and I might write another of these if I find anymore gold.

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